For 25 years--since the dairy industry introduced non-fat and low-fat milk--the choice for milk drinkers has been limited to those two varieties, plus regular homogenized whole milk.
But beginning this week, San Diego stores will be the first in the nation to carry a new type of milk, geared to "today's fit, health-conscious woman."
"Vital 15," a new product developed by the California Milk Advisory Board after two years of market research and testing, is being introduced with a $1.3-million promotional campaign hailing the "revolutionary new milk" as a "tasty, nutrition-packed beverage . . . specifically formulated to the unique nutritional needs of women."
Vital 15 is made by adding vitamin-enriched, concentrated non-fat milk to a base of whole milk. The resulting mixture has the same amount of calories as low-fat milk, but contains more calcium and protein and substantially higher quantities of Vitamins A and C, thiamine, niacin and other nutrients not usually found in such concentrations in milk.
In marketing the new product, the milk board is appealing primarily to female consumers, due largely, it said, to recent public concern over osteoporosis, a weakening of the bones that strikes one in four elderly women and is believed to be related to insufficient intake of calcium. Eight ounces of Vital 15 contain 53% of the recommended daily allowance of calcium, while the same amount of low-fat milk contains 43.8%.
"We have found that in our society, women do not consume enough milk," said Adri Boudewin, the milk board's director of communications. "They're figure-conscious, they're diet-conscious, and yet they need more calcium."
Deralee Scanlon, a nutritionist employed by the milk board to inform women of the threat of osteoporosis--and the benefits of the new milk--said Vital 15 will provide women with a natural source of calcium lactate, which is more easily absorbed by the body than other forms of calcium.
"Women are going to love it," Scanlon said. "It tastes like homogenized whole milk but we've kept the fat percentage down . . . plus we're giving them a bonus factor of 50% more nutrients."
Men also can benefit nutritionally from Vital 15, Scanlon said, even though the main target is women.
"Women will be thrilled that they have their own milk," she said. "Optimally, we would have a mother buying a half-gallon of whole homogenized milk for her husband and children and a half-gallon of Vital 15 for herself . . . I think we will see an increase in milk consumption and it's high time we do. We have to stop the ravages of osteoporosis."
The California Milk Advisory Board, which is funded by the California Dairymen's Assn., hopes to see an increase in milk consumption, especially now when dairy farmers are experiencing declining revenues. Although milk producers expect some "cannibalization" of the milk market, with sales of the Vital 15 eating into those of other types of milk, Boudewin said they also expect overall milk sales to increase by at least 5%.
The new milk, most of which will be produced by Alta-Dena Dairies at first, will be available at most major supermarkets and convenience stores under a variety of brand names. However, all dairies distributing the milk will sell it in the same bright, six-color cartons, the most elaborate packaging ever used by the dairy industry.
The milk's innovative marketing may have something to do with its price, which Boudewin said will be from 20% to 25% higher than that of low-fat milk. Scanlon said that although Vital 15 will be more expensive than other types of milk, it will be cheaper than dietary supplements with comparable vitamin content.
Pat Quillin, publisher of Nutrition Times, said Monday claims being made for the milk may be overstated. Quillin said the small amounts of additional calcium contained in Vital 15 will not make a major difference in whether a person will contract osteoporosis.
"Probably the people who are drinking adequate amounts of milk won't benefit substantially from the minimal amounts of additional calcium," he said, adding that prevention of osteoporosis requires more than just "bludgeoning your body with dietary calcium."
"Osteoporosis involves a very intricate relationship between calcium, phosphorous, Vitamin D and minerals such as copper and manganese," Quillin said. He added that while calcium lactate is more easily absorbed than other forms of calcium, milk itself is not an ideal calcium source, since it also contains phosphorous, which impedes the absorption of calcium.
As part of its introduction of the new milk, the California Milk Advisory Board is sponsoring a mobile "calcium clinic" that will travel to shopping centers throughout San Diego. The clinic will feature a computerized questionnaire, much like an automated teller machine, into which women can enter information on their diet and life style and receive a readout indicating to what extent they risk contracting osteoporosis. Samples of Vital 15 also will be available.
The clinic will make its first appearance at Fashion Valley Wednesday.
Marketing of the new form of milk in other parts of California is expected to follow in six months to a year, depending upon its reception in San Diego.